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Aurora Institute

Why the Increased Focus on Social-Emotional Learning?

Education Domain Blog

Authors: Katherine Prince

Issues: Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction, Activate Student Agency


With increasing frequency, social-emotional learning (SEL) is getting renewed attention — in research, in policy and in the classroom. It’s not a new concept, so why is there new interest? Education stakeholders increasingly realize that it prepares students not only for today, but also for tomorrow.

There are some job skills that transcend industry: deep self-knowledge, emotional regulation and empathy and perspective taking. These three areas of social-emotional skills provide a strong foundation upon which people can grow specific functional skills and knowledge. In addition to core academic knowledge, how might we make these skills central to teaching and learning?

Practice: Bringing Social-Emotional Learning into the Classroom

As more schools make the switch to personalized learning, many are choosing from the various SEL frameworks available for giving students more ownership of their learning. At Garfield County School District 16 in Parachute, Colorado, students are held up as experts alongside adults. They are introduced to the CRISP Habits of a Learner (collaboration, responsibility, inquiry, service and perseverance) developed by Expeditionary Learning as part of its CREW approach. Jenna Hemphill, a kindergarten-first grade teacher at Bea Underwood Elementary said, “CRISP is so important for my students because it helps them understand how to be a contributing citizen in our school, community and in life.” Other schools are using RULER, an approach to recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating emotions developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, to improve school climate and boost students’ academic performance and well-being.

Policy: Supporting All Students with Social-Emotional Learning

While SEL is not central to the work states are doing as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), KnowledgeWorks’ policy team is seeing examples of states incorporating SEL into their plans so as to help support all students. “Some states are partnering with the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning to identify social-emotional competencies to deepen how schools approach the individual needs of students,” said Sarah Jenkins, senior manager of research and advocacy at KnowledgeWorks.

Foresight: The Role of Social-Emotional Learning in a Framework for Future Readiness

KnowledgeWorks’ recent forecast, “Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out,” argues that developing core social-emotional skills will be essential for helping people navigate uncertainty and rapid change. We will need to develop our uniquely human skills to distinguish ourselves from and work effectively alongside smart machines partners, navigate changing employment structures, and reskill and upskill frequently.

Download “The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out” to learn more about this new foundation for readiness.

These skills promise to support learners so they can be successful in navigating an uncertain tomorrow where the world of work may look very different than it does today.

Continuing the Conversation Around Social-Emotional Learning

Schools, districts and state departments of education need to begin considering how to move past the historic focus on mastering content and the more recent focus on thinking and doing to establish a new focus on feeling and relating. Integrating social-emotional competency development alongside other learning objectives will enable students to develop the skills and practices necessary to meet the emerging realities of work with adaptability and resilience.

Learn more in iNACOL Symposium 2017 sessions featuring KnowledgeWorks practice, policy and foresight experts:

District Readiness: An Evaluative Approach to Scaling Personalized Learning
Speakers: Jesse Moyer and Drake Bryan
4:00 – 5:00 PM | Southern Hemisphere I

Personalizing the Every Student Succeeds Act: Breakthrough States and Trends for Student-Centered System Redesign
Speakers: Lillian Pace and Anne Olson
4:00 – 5:00 PM | Asia 1

Redefining Readiness: A New Foundation for New Futures of Work
Speaker: Katherine Prince
4:00 – 5:00 PM | Northern Salon E4